ABADIANIA, Brazil: Brazilian spiritual healer Joao Teixeira de Faria, center, known as ‘Joao de Deus’ (John of God) is escorted by supporters, upon arrival at his healing center Casa de Dom Inacio de Loyola, in Abadiania, 120 km southwest of Brasilia, state of Goias.-AFP

ABADIANIA, Brazil: A famous Brazilian “spiritual healer” who has been accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of women who sought treatment from him told followers Wednesday he was innocent. Joao Teixeira de Faria, 76, known internationally as “Joao de Deus” or “John of God,” told a crowd of white-clad faithful waiting for him “I am not guilty.” He left after less than 10 minutes, with volunteer staff saying he was too affected by the allegations to carry out his usual “healing” session.

Police are investigating complaints by more than 450 women in several Brazilian states saying that Faria forced them into sex acts under pretext of curing them. The avalanche of accusations followed allegations made by a dozen women late last week to Brazilian outlets Globo TV and O Globo newspaper. One of the women who spoke to Globo TV, a Dutch choreographer named Zahira Lieneke Mous, said Faria had also raped her.

The appearance was Faria’s first in public since the accusations were made. Wednesday is the usual day he receives people believing in his supernatural powers to treat illnesses ranging from depression to cancer. Faria was greeted with cries, applause and tears by his faithful, who were all dressed in white, several of them foreigners. “I think the accusations are false,” said Duncan Ryan, a 66-year-old American with skin cancer.

“I know many, many Brazilian women and foreign women who volunteer here at the casa, and who have been in private with John of God many, many times-and even very beautiful women-and they’ve never had any problem with him,” he said. Jose Carlos, a 63-year-old Brazilian seeking cures for his wife, suffering a brain tumor, and his daughter, in psychological treatment, said: “Up to now I haven’t seen any evidence shown against him. They should also talk about the cures he’s done.”

Town worried
Around 40 percent of the 10,000 people who flocked to see him each month before the accusations were foreigners, according to the mayor of Abadiania, where Faria’s center is located. Some hailed from as far as the United States, Australia and Europe, drawn by reports of Faria’s “miracles.” His fame rocketed in 2013 when US celebrity Oprah Winfrey broadcast a show on him, based on a visit she had made the previous year. On Wednesday, that episode was removed from Winfrey’s YouTube video archive.

The steady flow of visitors is an important revenue source for Abadiania, a tiny rural town of 15,000 inhabitants, and there were fears that could dry up if Faria’s reputation is irredeemably tarnished. “We haven’t yet felt the impact, maybe we will next week,” said the owner of a restaurant located near to Faria’s center that serves 200 customers a day. “We want him to pay for his crimes, if he really committed any. But we don’t want the House (center) to close,” he said.

Faria’s spokeswoman at the center, Edna Gomes, said the healer was “doing well, is calm” and was waiting for the investigations to run their course. She said she had never seen anything to corroborate the accusations. “Justice will clear this up. Above all, he is an innocent person,” she said. Three Brazilian presidents have sought his services in the past: former leftist leaders Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff, who have both battled cancer; and current President Michel Temer, before a prostate operation.–AFP